CLEVELAND — As they opened a season-ending nine-game road trip pondering multiple permutations that determine their status and seeding for the postseason, the Rays knew the simplest solution is just to win games.
And that was what they eventually did Tuesday night, overcoming an eighth-inning blown lead to rally for a 6-5, 11-inning win over Cleveland that reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff berth to three, meaning they could be celebrating as soon as Thursday.
“It could have been a very frustrating day, given how we performed early and then kind of what took place in that (eighth) inning,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “So, really happy the guys stayed positive and found a way to come up with some big hits.”
Harold Ramirez, who spent last year with Cleveland, had the biggest, a two-out, two-run double in the 11th. That scored Taylor Walls, who alertly moved from second, where he started the inning, to third on a wild pitch, and Wander Franco, who walked with two outs, and stole second to move into scoring position.
“I knew once I got that fourth ball and having a guy like Harold up there, he’s gonna help us win a ballgame because he’s been doing it all year long,” Franco said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “And he did a great job.”
Ramirez, facing Trevor Stephan, said it was just a matter of sticking to his basic philosophy in lacing a ball down the third-base line.”
“I always focus on hitting the ball because I hate to strike out. So if I hit the ball, something is gonna happen,” Ramirez said. “I was feeling very excited because now we just need to be winning some games.”:
Rookie Calvin Faucher, the ninth Tampa Bay pitcher, made sure of it, allowing one run but getting the final three outs for his first big-league save.
The Rays improved to 85-69, needing just a combination of three wins and losses by the Orioles (who were beaten by Boston on Tuesday) to clinch a fourth straight playoff berth.
They are second in the three-team American League wild-card field, moving to within 1 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays (who lost to the now-AL East champion Yankees) and staying ahead of the Mariners, who played late Tuesday.
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The Rays got off to a good start Tuesday, taking a 4-1 lead over the AL Central champs by scoring four in the fourth off ace and playoffs Game 1 starter Shane Bieber.
Franco, extending his career-high hitting streak to 13 games, started the rally, Ramirez followed with an RBI double then scored on two productive outs, and Jose Siri blasted a two-run home run.
But the Guardians came right back with two off Corey Kluber, their longtime star who was making his first start in Cleveland as a visitor, ending has day after four innings, including a 23-minute rain delay, and 91 pitches.
The Guardians then got even in the eighth with a rally that consisted of a walk, a stolen base, a rightside ground out and an infield single as the result of a replay reversal of an out call.
All of which led to the 11th-inning rally.
Walls started the inning as the runner on second and with two outs moved up when ball four to Franco was in the dirt. “Kind of the base-running play of the game right there to get there,” Cash said. With Stephan not paying close attention, Franco then swiped second, setting up Ramirez’s key moment.
“Really big hit, big at-bat,” Cash said. “Their bullpen is really good. That’s a really good team. Stephan gets ahead with the fastball and he’s gonna go to some nasty splits. It looked like Harold pulled that one from the ground and got it by (Jose) Ramirez down the line for a big double.”
Franco said there is a lot to be excited about.
“Everything feels good,” he said. “I’m feeling good in the box and feeling good physically. Now the only thing left is to make the playoffs.”
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